On my search to find a workout supplement, which ultimately turned into creating one, I found many that sounded like the effects it provided were a little too radical for my tastes and the claims sounded too good to be true. An article on the Top 10 pre workout supplements describes one of their top supplements, Pump-HD as being able to leave them with a “visible pump 3 hours after hitting the gym.” They then provide some more opinion that doesn’t mesh with my idea of a pre workout supplement. “But check this, inner circle honesty time- we don’t take Pump-HD every single day. With all seriously strong pre workouts, you’ve got to be ethical about dosage. So, we save it for chest day exclusively.” Their pre workout supplement sounds like a drug, one that can’t even be taken for its intended purpose every time. I was looking for something to provide energy, increase muscle synthesis/speed recovery, and that doesn’t have a bunch of checmical compounds I’m not interested in taking. I certainly don’t want a “visible pump 3 hours after hitting the gym.” What kind of stuff do you think would be in that? I would like something I can take every workout as an alternative to food that will help my body workout and recover. Namely, protein and carbohydrates with a few vitamins and minerals.

A specific compound that has started to show up everywhere is of Beta Alanine. Pump-HD as well as many other supplements targeted as pre workout contain this compound. Here’s a description of a Cellucor product that contains beta alanine from their website: 

A BCAA PRODUCT YOU CAN FEEL Cellucor COR-Performance β-BCAA™ features BCAAs, Beta Alanine, Citrulline and HICA, which are proven to help athletes build muscle, sustain maximum output, and recover from intense training and sports activities. *Beta Alanine is known for the ‘tingling’ sensation most users feel after consumption. Cellucor COR-Performance β-BCAA™ uses a clinically studied 1.6g dose of Beta Alanine to deliver maximum results and a great activation feeling that let’s you know the product is ‘kicking in.’

**The vast majority of Beta Alanine users report a slight tingling sensation after ingestion. If you don’t feel the ‘tingles’, don’t worry, the product is still hard at work to maximize your workout. http://www.cellucor.com/products/29-bcaa

The utilization of short term feedback in a product that should mostly exhibit long term feedback is a very interesting marketing method. Feedback is when a user gets some type of information back about how the system is working they have a better indication of the current state. Cellucor describes their product with the statement “a great activation feeling that let’s you know the product is ‘kicking in.’” They also mention that if you don’t get this feeling the product is still working.

We talked about a study in college where a company made a cleaning powder that was really effective at getting tough stains and dirt off of surfaces but it wasn’t selling well. They did a test with some users where the users compared their cleaning powder against a product that had no cleaning capabilities, but when mixed with water it would cause an audible fizzle. Users actually thought the fizzle product was a better cleaning product, even though it had no cleaning capabilities. Why is that? Feedback. The users got an indication of when the product was “kicking in.”

By adding components to a workout supplement that enable the users to perceive feedback they can associate that with it working. This doesn’t actually mean it is doing anything productive, but by providing a chemical compound that provides a sensation to the users, the use can perceive it is working, which is enough to sell the product.

From a consumer’s point of view the products now have an immediate form of feedback. The problem with this is the feedback you should get is not based on this initial “tingle” before you’ve ever hit the gym. The feedback should be the next time you go to workout that body part and you are stronger. This tingle sensation will happen regardless of going to the gym, so if you take the product and stay home you will get the same feedback.

Users will be interested in a product that gives them the feeling of results now, versus results later. Since exercising requires a major mental component to improve, maybe taking something that will make you think you are better equipped to handle the rigors of the gym will make you better equipped, but not because of what it does to you but because of what you think it does to you. In essence, maybe the beta alanine works like a really strong placebo because of the feedback.

Between the promotions and the reviews of these types of products, there is a surplus of statements that make you want to cringe. An Amazon review of Cellucor C4 had the following to say:

423 of 526 people found the following review helpful Good Price, Even Better Product
By JTurk on December 18, 2013
Flavor Name: Fruit PunchSize Name: 30 Servings Verified Purchase

I have been using C4 for a little over 5 months.

Here is what I think:

C4 Pros:

  • Smooth formula. No twitching, come-down, or anxiety effects when taking it. (this was really important to me)
  • Great Pumps! What are pumps? The feeling you get in your muscles after doing an exercise. (that’s the easy explanation)
  • Taste. I have used both the Fruit Punch and Pink Lemonade. Both taste great. No problems getting either of them down.
  • Not a proprietary blend, so you know what you are taking.
  • Lots of Flavors. C4 offers way more flavors than the Jack3D.

C4 Cons:

  • Waste of packaging. They give you a huge tube, but fill it a quarter of the way.
  • Scooper is SOMETIMES buried at the bottom. I lose that little bit of product having to reach down and get it. (this is me just being picky)

To everyone who is thinking about getting C4 for the first time, please make sure you consider the following:

  • These products are heavy stimulants. They will likely increase your heart rate.
  • Drink plenty of water before, while, and after you take this product. For me, I drink 24 oz during the day, 10-15 ounces mixed with the C4, and at least 35-40 ounces after taking it (whether during the workout or post-workout).
  • Do not combine this with other stimulants or medications. Especially no ADD/ADHD meds.
  • In my experience, if I don’t get a good nights rest the evening before, I don’t take C4 ( or any pre-workout supplement) The 2 times I took the product without being well rested, I got terrible anxiety.
  • Make sure you take in a good meal after your workout.

Hope this helps.

I was surprised this was a five star review. It was really important to JTurk that it didn’t cause anxiety. “ Smooth formula. No twitching, come-down, or anxiety effects when taking it. (this was really important to me)… The 2 times I took the product without being well rested, I got terrible anxiety.”

Whether Beta Alanine is the miracle biclops builder it has been made to sounds like, or it is just a really interesting chemical compound that makes you feel like you’re working out before you’re at the gym, one thing is for certain. Supplement companies have found a go to source for providing feedback to the user that their chemical concoction is “kicking in.” Sounds like a marketer’s holy grail.